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First Post in Prague

June 1, 2010

Talk about a huge culture shock. Prague is so different from London/Manchester.

We’ve been here for a couple days and have already seen so many things.  Castles, towers, monuments. The streets and buildings are  beautiful. I find myself taking a picture of every block we walk down.

Because everything here is so picturesque, we’ve been walking around and exploring as much as we can. A couple of us rented a rowboat the other day and, after getting laughed at by the rental girl for 20 minutes because we couldn’t get the hang of rowing a boat (should’ve just gotten paddle boats), we traveled around the Vltava River to get an even cooler view of the city. We visited the John Lennon peace wall… amazing.

Besides sightseeing and walking around the city, we’ve been busy visiting agencies and learning an entirely new culture and style of advertising. The three places that we’ve been to so far – The University of Economics, Remmark, and Garp – have all been extremely insightful as to the mentality behind Czech shopper.

The University of Economics

The two professors that spoke told us about the Communist rule and the new wave of freedom that the Czech people experienced . They’ve realized that sustainability and brand responsibility is becoming increasingly important to both companies and consumers. According to them, the quality of goods is becoming more important than their prices, and they frequently refer to a quote by Unilever’s chairman – “Doing more with less.”

As for fashion, they didn’t touch much on the subject. They did mention that Tesco is introducing several new name brands into their clothing selection, and that Czech people are concerned with prices and quality more than name brands.

Remmark

Remmark is a mid-size agency that employs about 28-30 people. There’s about 2,500 ad agencies in the country, so some of them are smaller than others. We learned more about the changes in The Czech Republic and how they affected advertising. In 1989, the markets went up and the need for top-notch ads fell. The ad agencies slacked a bit and were given a reality check in 2008 when the markets went down. They suddenly needed to step up their game and have been creating great ads ever since. Czech people are big on skepticism and irony, and these traits are reflected in their ads. Their sense of humor is very similar to that of Americans.

I got a lot of information about shopping here. Czech people desire nice clothes, but they only buy what they can safely afford. There is no real distinction of fashion styles between towns and cities in the Czech Republic unless you’re looking at very rural vs. very urban. Fashion is always on people’s minds and they always want to look their best.

A couple decades ago, the ability to purchase things as freely as one wanted to was limited because of the country’s economic and political situation. The shopping experience in general was unpleasant and was perceived as more of a obligation rather than an enjoyed activity. After the political reform, people became more free to spend their money. Enormous hypermarkets were created. The typical Czech markets and small stores became more and more obsolete as people jumped on the new bandwagon.

There’s been a decline of hypermarket frenzy recently because people are starting to miss the intimate feel of shopping at a boutique or a market. This doesn’t mean that people don’t still shop at hypermarkets – I asked about the hypermarket shopping experience and was told that families plan all-day excursions to these giant stores. The stores are set up specifically to keep people entertained all day with all the amenities, services, restaurants, etc. As nice and convenient as these hypermarkets are, Czech people are missing the nicer places – less crowded, less running around, and more of a relationship with the salespeople. The average Czech person still shops mostly at markets and small stores that are located around their houses.

Something that really stuck with me that I learned here was about the cultural norms of Czech behavior. When an American is asked “How are you?” they respond – no matter how horrible their day has been – with a “I’m good, how are you?” Czech people, on the other hand, would get annoyed and almost offended if they heard that response. It is the norm here in the Czech Republic to answer a “How are you?” with something like “My day has been ok/bad, but I’m trying to get by.” It comes off as fake and insincere to a Czech person if one answers that they’re great when they’re probably not great. The rep from Remmark who spoke to us at the agency said that if a Czech person said “I’m great!” they would come off as arrogant.

This led me to ask, “Is it really taboo to brag here in the Czech Republic? And how would that apply to buying nice clothes as a status symbol?” Apparently, Czech people love having nice things and showing them off, but it’s taboo to verbally brag. Drive all around town in your new car, or shove your new watch in your friends’ faces all you want, but do not actually talk about it. I thought that was interesting because I know one too many people from America who talk about their expensive possessions.

Garp

This morning we went to Garp CZ. This ad agency focuses on Integrated Communications and is especially interested in the Czech beer market. We did a few exercises and came up with our own ideas for promotional gifts. Although the presentation was mainly about beer, the fashion group asked the reps a few questions about their perception of a typical shopping experience here. I agreed with the reps when they started off with the fact that there are barely any clothing ads around Prague, with the exception of H&M ads. Most advertisements, if any, are for new stores or malls opening. Brand names rely on word-of-mouth among loyal customers and their friends to spread the word. The reps from Garp said that people in the Czech Republic are very price sensitive, so most people still shop in markets and small stores. Brand names are considered luxury items, and there are not many competing clothing store chains. The final insight that they had was that online shopping is very common here. People go to the stores, try on clothing, then return to their home to purchase the items online for cheaper prices.

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